Ice Fishing Fish Finder Guide

Using an ice fishing flasher

Using a fish finder while ice fishing will help you drill holes in the right spots for a more successful day of fishing. However, finding the right ice fishing fish finder can be tricky, especially with the recent advancements in locator technology. To help you choose the right fish finder for your next day on the ice, we’ve broken down everything you need to know about ice fishing locators including how fish finders work, how to read an ice fishing flasher, plus some helpful tips to find fish from SCHEELS Ice Fishing Experts.

How Do Ice Fishing Locators Work?

Different types of ice fishing fish finders

There are two types of fish finders you’ll see when ice fishing: flashers, which are the more traditional style, and LCD screens, which are similar to the fish finders on most fishing boats. Both types of locators work the same way: a transducer sends out a sonar pulse, which bounces off any fish or structure underwater and returns to the transducer. The fish finder unit then uses this sonar information to display the depth, bottom contour, and the location of any fish.

Ice Fishing Flashers vs. Digital Locators

Each type of ice fishing fish finder has a different display: flashers use a circular display to provide a vertical scan of the water, while digital locators use an LCD screen to display info. The type of ice fishing locator you use is largely down to your preference, although some anglers use the same locator for open water and ice fishing by using an ice fishing conversion kit.

Ice Fishing Flashers

Vexilar FLX28

An ice fishing flasher has a circular display that provides a vertical scan of the water column. The display on a flasher lights up with different colors (usually red, yellow, and green) to indicate the strength of the sonar return along the water column. On most flashers, red signals the bottom of the lake or the depth of a fish, while green shows the depth of weeds and cover. Flashers are relatively simple to use and are the more traditional type of ice fishing fish finder. While there aren't a lot of new technology innovations to flashers, they are a tried-and-true method for finding fish and watching your lure under the ice. 

Flashers are great for anglers who want a simple readout and don’t need GPS or a lot of customization

Ice Fishing Digital Locators

Humminbird Helix 10

A digital ice fishing locator features a large LCD screen, similar to the fish finders on most fishing boats. In fact, many locators can be used on both the ice and open water. These ice fishing fish finders display the sonar readout vertically and show the exact shape of any interference. Many LCD locators also feature a flasher mode that converts the sonar return to a traditional flasher style. Plus, these locators often feature GPS and satellite technology so you can see contour maps of lakes, save waypoints, and navigate to new spots. While they offer the most display options and have more advanced technology, ice fishing locators are also more expensive. 

Digital ice fishing locators are great for anglers who want customization options, automatic depth finding, mapping and GPS software, or for those fishing on unfamiliar lakes.

While ice fishing will be easier with the latest locator technology, you can safely choose an ice fishing flasher if you don’t want to spend extra on a GPS-enabled locator. While you won’t have access to maps and GPS, you’ll still get a great look underwater and find more success on the ice!

How to Read an Ice Fishing Flasher

An ice fishing flasher labeled with the jig, a fish, and the bottom

Flashers work by showing the intensity of the sonar returns on the screen. Many flashers use a similar color palette: green for soft returns, yellow for medium returns, and red for hard returns. The level of return indicates that sonar has hit something underwater and how much of the sonar came back. When the sonar beam hits a softer object like weed cover, it returns less of the signal to the transducer and shows a green return. When the beam hits a hard bottom, it returns most of the signal to the transducer, showing a red return.

To find the depth of the water column, look for a solid red band. The band may have some green or yellow readings right above or below if it's a soft bottom. If you don’t see a solid red band, you may need to increase the range of your sonar using the dial.

You can adjust the intensity of the readouts by adjusting the gain: as you turn the gain up, more objects will return red, and as you turn the gain down, the returns will become softer. Adjusting the gain for brief periods of time can be a great way to distinguish fish against other features and in some cases allows for easier separation of fish from structure.

While many flashers display their information similarly, each brand or model of flasher will have subtle differences in how it displays readouts. For the most accurate information, consult the users’ manual included with your particular unit. Plus, this will often give you some helpful tips right from the manufacturer to get the most out of your flasher unit.

Digital Ice Fishing Fish Finder Technology

Digital mapping and GPS software is a great enhancement to your ice fishing set-up, especially if you’re fishing on an unfamiliar lake. Most fish finders come with built-in contour maps so you can spot any potential fishing spots before you ever step foot on the ice. Plus, you’ll often have options to mark waypoints or navigate to your favorite spots. For more quick tips on finding potential ice fishing spots using GPS, check out this video from SCHEELS Ice Fishing Expert Ben.

One of the latest advancements in fish finding technology is Garmin Panoptix Livescope. Livescope gives you a real-time look below the ice so you can more effectively find fish. To learn how to find fish using Garmin Panoptix Livescope, check out this video with SCHEELS Ice Fishing Expert Jadyn!

Having a reliable ice fishing fish finder will give you a better idea of what lies below the ice so you can plan your strategy for success. Whether you choose a tried-and-true sonar flasher or a digital ice fishing locator with the latest technology, you’ll be ready to put fish on ice and make the most of the season ahead. If you want advice tailored to your ice fishing strategy, visit your local SCHEELS and talk to one of our ice fishing experts!